Ross v. Moffitt

LOCATION:Robert Welch Inc.

DOCKET NO.: 73-786
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 417 US 600 (1974)
ARGUED: Apr 22, 1974
DECIDED: Jun 17, 1974

Jacob L. Safron – for petitioners
Thomas B. Anderson, Jr.

Facts of the case


Media for Ross v. Moffitt

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – April 22, 1974 in Ross v. Moffitt

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 17, 1974 in Ross v. Moffitt

Warren E. Burger:

The disposition of number 73-786, Ross against Moffitt will be announced by Mr. Justice Rehnquist.

William H. Rehnquist:

This case is here on certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which held that the State of North Carolina must furnish a convicted defendant counsel to seek discretionary review of his conviction in Supreme Court of North Carolina and to seek certiorari here.

We had earlier held that the Fourteenth Amendment does require that the State furnish counsel to a convicted defendant for his appeal as of right within the State system, but we conclude here that neither due process nor equal protection require that respondent receive court-appointed counsel for these discretionary appeals.

This Court has held that the Due Process Clause does not require states to provide any appeal at all and a state therefore acts unfairly, only if it denies indigents meaningful access to any appellate system that is set up because of their poverty.

That principle which overlaps with equal protection notions has not been violated by the North Carolina system challenged here.

At the time a defendant in respondent’s position seeks discretionary appeal in the North Carolina Supreme Court,he will have a transcript of the trial proceedings, a brief prepared by a counsel for his appeal as of right to the North Carolina intermediate Court of Appeals and perhaps, an opinion of the Court of Appeals disposing of his claim.

These materials, supplemented by whatever submission a defendant may himself make should be sufficient to allow the Supreme Court of the State to decide whether the case has a significant public interest, involves legal principles of major significance to the State or is likely to be in conflict with the prior decisions of the State Supreme Court, the standards which guide that Court’s decision that grant or deny review.

Likewise we do not believe that the State is required to appoint counsel to represent a criminal defendant on his petition for review in this Court.

Our review, like the review of the Supreme Court of North Carolina depends on discretionary factors other than the perceived correctness of the decision below and at the time of his petition, a defendant in respondent’s circumstances will have a transcript of brief and one or even two opinions of Lower Courts with which to present his petition to this Court.

In addition, we know that the right to seek review in this Court is granted not by any state, but by the federal statute and exists regardless of the willingness of a state to have the decisions of its highest Court reviewed here.

Thus, we do not believe that the Constitution requires the state to appoint counsel for petitions for review in this Court.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is reversed.

Mr. Justice Douglas has filed a dissenting opinion in which Mr. Justice Brennan and Mr. Justice Marshall have joined.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you, Mr. Justice Rehnquist.